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Hill Center Revisits ‘Dream City’ 20 Years Later

Barry's "Dream City?" (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Barry's "Dream City?" (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Twenty years ago, Washington, D.C., was a very different place, and it was artfully chronicled, from success to failure, by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood in their seminal book, “Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.”  

Now the duo is back with a re-issued e-book version of their opus, complete with an afterward that surveys the massive changes of the last two decades, and they’ll be discussing it Monday at Hill Center. Washington these days is a cultural behemoth, a 640,000 plus multi-ethnic populace that has grown in many ways past the old town-and-gown trope of, on one hand, the City of Monuments and, on the other hand, Chocolate City. But where we were and where we are now share some attributes, and at the heart of it is one man: “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry.  

In 1994, it D.C. was still very much the city Barry had built. In 2014, Barry’s power is diminished, yet he hangs on as a D.C. council member and a symbol of fierce pride to many. Need proof? How about Spike Lee’s forthcoming HBO biopic on Barry, as well as the recent documentary, “The Nine Lives of Marion Barry.”  

And many of the issues that have long defined the District’s struggle for basic autonomy, which frame much of “Dream City,” are playing out in real time in the courts and in the perennial struggle between Congress and the D.C. government.  

Electing its own public officials? The District of Columbia Court of Appeals just ruled that the city needed to hold an election for attorney general this year, as voters approved in 2010. Budget autonomy for the city from Congress? A federal judge ruled last month that a popular vote referendum granting autonomy did not have the force of law . A vote in Congress or statehood? Still working on that, too .  

All this is playing out in the midst of a mayoral election that has already deposed the incumbent, Vincent C. Gray, and features two sitting council members: Muriel Bowser, an African American who represents former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s old stomping grounds, and David Catania, a white, openly gay, Republican-turned-independent who is running strong on education issues.  

Say what you will about D.C. It’s never boring.  

Helping moderate the discussion will be the Washington Post’s Clinton Yates, who writes about the state of the city and its many quirks and personalities with tact and verve.  

The free event at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE starts at 7 p.m. Register at Hill Center’s website .

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